Monday, August 14, 2006

If They Had Just Asked the Historians

Or some other academic who studies Cuba. The New York Times has a piece today about how the stability of Cuba's government in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's illness is surprising some experts.

The decline of Fidel Castro, who turned 80 on Sunday and appeared in photographs for the first time since his unspecified intestinal surgery last month, was supposed to be a kind of second Cuban revolution. The notion, put forward by Cuba specialists for years, was that the entire system hung on one man.
Which specialists? Ginger Thompson, who penned the article, doesn't tell us. While certainly Fidel looms large in Cuba, and his hyperactivity and micromanagement are well documented, the idea that he alone manages and controls that country is a serious distortion. Whenever I go to Cuba, someone inevitably asks me when I get back, "Did you see Fidel?" (I did - once. He whizzed by in his motorcade.) But Fidel depends on the loyalty of the military and the Party to govern Cuba. It is that loyalty, and the ability of any successor to inherit that loyalty, that determines the stability of the regime. His current health crisis suggests that the regime is more stable than his most optimistic opponents had hoped. Damián Fernández, an academic who understands Cuba better than most, notes the consequences of this misunderstanding.
"We were ill-prepared for the eventuality of continuity rather than change,” said Damián Fernández, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, referring to policy makers in Washington and Miami. “All our policies have been built on a foundation of wishful thinking. Now we are confronted with reality, and it’s not what we had hoped it would be.”
I don't know what will happen when Fidel leaves the stage for good. Nobody does. But I do know who will decide what happens. It will be the middle level Party cadres and military officers, people who have come of age since the Revolution. These people have not enjoyed the prosperity of the Miami Cubans, nor, for the most part, have they been able to benefit much personally from the tourism dollars that have poured into the country in recent years. Their willingness to sacrifice for Fidel, for the ideals of the Revolution, or perhaps simply to do what they must to survive in a police state, has kept the regime in power through difficult times. Whether that will continue post-Fidel is anybody's guess.

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